Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey received a text message from his father Wednesday, knowing his son was about to face the Kansas City Chiefs.
“You better have your track shoes on this week,” Humphrey said, relaying the message.
The Chiefs (2-0) have been piling up points and running past defenses ever since Patrick Mahomes became their starting quarterback last season. After winning the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2018, Mahomes leads the league in passing yards (821) heading into Sunday’s marquee matchup against the Ravens.
Trying to contain Mahomes is one of the biggest challenges Baltimore’s defense will face this season, particularly its secondary. Not only does Mahomes have a great arm and excellent mobility; he’ll be throwing to a bevy of speedy receivers in Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman, and one of the NFL’s premier tight ends in Travis Kelce.
The Ravens’ secondary is looking forward to the challenge. However, nobody is saying it will be easy. In Week 2 against the Oakland Raiders, Mahomes completed 30 of 44 passes for 443 yards and four touchdowns.
“Definitely tough to simulate Pat Mahomes in practice,” Humphrey said. “Maybe get a couple of little extra scramble plays. He makes a lot of things happen, even when nothing’s there. Sometimes he throws guys open. It’s really tough when you’re going against a guy like that.”
Any play run by the Chiefs is a potential big play. The Ravens discovered that last season during a 27-24 overtime loss in Kansas City, one of the league’s best games of 2018. Just when it looked like the Ravens might win, leading 24-17 with less than two minutes left in regulation, Mahomes made a play for the ages. On fourth-and-9, scrambling to his right, Mahomes somehow threw across his body downfield to hit Tyreek Hill, good for a 41-yard gain.
Earlier in the game, Mahomes made a ridiculous no-look completion to Robinson on a crossing pattern, despite being tightly covered by Humphrey, who still remembers the play.
“The ball came out of nowhere, I’ll say that,” Humphrey said.
So how will the Ravens thwart Mahomes and company this time around?
The Ravens have the league’s No. 2-ranked defense, only trailing the New England Patriots, and Sunday’s game will be an early-season measuring stick.
The Dolphins didn’t offer much of a threat in Week 1, and the Cardinals and No. 1-overall pick Kyler Murray presented a stiffer test in Week 2. The Ravens had some lapses in the secondary last week, and know if they do so again in Kansas City, the Chiefs’ playmakers will make them pay.
“It’s a big challenge for us in the back end, a big challenge for the defense for this ball club on the road against a playoff-caliber team,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “They have it all. We’re excited to see what we’re made of.”
The Ravens have excellent secondary depth despite injuries to Tavon Young (neck) who is out for the season, and Jimmy Smith (knee), who is out multiple weeks. Humphrey is one of the league’s best corners, and Brandon Carr is one of the most versatile. Earl Thomas III and Tony Jefferson may be the league’s best safety tandem. Anthony Averett, Anthony Levine Sr. and DeShon Elliott are among others who may be used to matchup with Chiefs’ receivers.
In this kind of matchup, having a six-time Pro Bowl safety like Thomas could be invaluable because of his instincts and ability to react and cover ground once Mahomes starts to improvise. Thomas is obviously stoked for the challenge.
“I think that comes down to personnel and luckily the Ravens have me playing free safety, controlling the deep end,” Thomas said. “I plan on eliminating all the big plays.
“You just got to understand his explosive plays. Andy Reid's going to come with some exotic stuff. Try to make them one-dimensional, stop the run as usual. It's going to be a tough task on the road against him. He's coming off a big game, I think a four-touchdown game. It's going to definitely challenge us."
The memory of last year’s loss in Kansas City is still fresh in the minds of many Ravens, and they will watch film of that game this week as part of the preparation for Sunday’s game. However, this is a different year and a new opportunity.
Only four AFC teams have started 2-0, and the outcome of this game could have playoff implications down the road. However, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh is simply focusing on trying to win Sunday.
“We’re early in the season,” Harbaugh said. “We’re trying to make our way. There will be a lot at stake at the end of the year when you count them up, but right now, both teams are trying to find who they are and are trying to win an early AFC matchup.”
However, it’s a game that will challenge the Ravens’ secondary in multiple ways. Humphrey is eager to face such a dynamic attack.
“When you look at the schedule awhile back, you knew this was a game that was going to be a big test,” Humphrey said. “We feel we have a really good defense and we want to perform against the best. The best and the best go together. It brings out the best.”